Review: San Diego Chargers on 4th down against the Denver Broncos

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Chargers offense found itself repeatedly stymied during the Divisional playoff game against the Denver Broncos. Should Mike McCoy have opted to go for it more?

The San Diego Chargers were eliminated from title contention by the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Did Mike McCoy's decision making on 4th down play a role? Let's take a look with help from the New York Times 4th Down Bot and the Advanced NFL Stats 4th Down Calculator.

Chargers 0, Broncos 0 - 9:36 left in 1st quarter - 4th and 16 from SD 43

NYT 4th Down Bot Says: Punt the ball

Mike McCoy's Decision: Punt the ball

On 4th and 16 in the first quarter, it is a no-brainer. Punt the ball away.

Chargers 0, Broncos 7 - 0:28 left in 1st quarter - 4th and 12 from SD 18

NYT 4th Down Bot Says: Punt the ball

Mike McCoy's Decision: Punt the ball

Again, this is 4th and very long in the first quarter, the conservative call is the correct call.

Chargers 0, Broncos 7 - 11:18 left in 2nd quarter - 4th and 8 from DEN 35

NYT 4th Down Bot Says: Too close to call

Mike McCoy's Decision: Attempt a field goal

This one was a bit of a no-win situation. Going for it on 4th and 8 is a pretty tough prospect, succeeding only about 38% of the time. Succeeding is a huge boon, though, as the offense would be in a terrific position to score.

Kicking a field goal isn't a promising option, either. Under normal conditions, a 53 yard field goal succeeds about 50% of the time, and the Broncos get the ball back with better field position than if you'd gone for it. Also detracting from this field goal was the wind, which was blowing across the field, making kicks that much more difficult.

In the end, under normal conditions, going for it is worth only 0.1 more points than kicking a field goal. Given the windy conditions, I would have preferred McCoy go for it here.

Chargers 0, Broncos 14 - 3:36 left in 2nd quarter - 4th and 6 from SD 34

NYT 4th Down Bot Says: Punt the ball

Mike McCoy's Decision: Punt the ball

The Chargers gave up another touchdown, and were now facing another 4th down. Win percentage and points scored both tell the same story in this case, and that is to punt the ball. Punting is worth about 1% more in win percentage and 0.2 points than going for it.

Chargers 0, Broncos 17 - 6:30 left in 3rd quarter - 4th and 18 from SD 38

NYT 4th Down Bot Says: Punt the ball

Mike McCoy's Decision: Punt the ball

The offense continued to make Mike's decisions easy to make by getting into 4th and 10+ situations.

Chargers 7, Broncos 24 - 7:38 left in 4th quarter - 4th and 5 from SD 25

NYT 4th Down Bot Says: Go for it

Mike McCoy's Decision: Go for it

Fun fact: this was the first time all season the Chargers attempted to convert a fourth down longer than two yards.

The NYT 4th Down Bot didn't really have a recommendation for this situation, as the Chargers win probability is 1% for either option. Going for it is clearly the right call though, with the Chargers down three scores with half a quarter to go.

Chargers 14, Broncos 24 - 3:56 left in 4th quarter - 4th and 5 from DEN 12

NYT 4th Down Bot Says: Go for it

Mike McCoy's Decision: Attempt the field goal

In this situation, using win percentage is the best way to evaluate the best decision. Here teams are expected to win 8% of the time when going for it, while teams kicking the field goal win 6% of the time. Going for it is pretty much a coin flip, and succeeds about 45% of the time. Going for it and failing essentially ends the game. Going for it and making it increases the team's win probability to 15%. Kicking a field goal succeeds at a much higher rate, but essentially forces the overtime coin flip option.

Personally, I would have liked the Chargers to have gone for it here, and try to keep a win in regulation on the table.

Conclusion

Of the seven 4th down situations the Chargers found themselves in, the New York Times agreed with four of them, was ambivalent about two, and disagreed with one. The one time the bot disagreed with Mike McCoy turned out to be a non-issue, as the Chargers offense would never see the ball again after that point. There is plenty of blame to be handed out for the Chargers loss to the Broncos, but Mike McCoy's decision making on 4th down shouldn't get any of it.

This won't be all on 4th down for the season. We'll look at Mike McCoy's decision making as a whole, as well which coaches were the most aggressive this season.

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